My Island Penang

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Sambal Belachan

Malaysians cannot do without this side dish

Sambal Belachan to us is a must have in every meal. This Penang Food Delight is synonymous to being a Penangnite, a Malay, a Baba and Nyonya or a Chinese.

The Nyonyas and Malays household must have a plate of it as Kerabu and Ulam is an everyday affair.

Ulam are fresh herbs or vegetables from the garden or market like Kacang Botol (Wing Beans), Pucuk Paku (Fiddlehead Fern), Petai and many others. Kerabu vegetables like Pineapple, Cucumber, Taugeh, and Mint.

Sambal Belachan goes very well with Nasi Lemak. Different variations of dishes are main dishes with fish, prawns or dried stuffs. Sambal Chicken is cooked with a little dash of Penang delight.

Basic Sambal

Penang Sambal Belacha

It is important to make good sambal. There are two things to remember when making this delightful sambal. Roast the belachan just in time to add in the pounded chillies. This is so important. I cannot emphasize enough of this.

If you used cool roasted belachan, it will not taste good at all. The sambal breaks or makes the dish. A good sambal is a balance of mushiness, spiciness and sweetness.


  • 50 gms of fresh chillies.
  • 25 gms belachan
  • A pinch of Salt and sugar
  • 1 teaspoon of Lime juice
  • Roast or toast or fry the belachan till dry.
  • Add to the finely pounded chillies.
  • Add a little sugar and fresh lime juice.
  • Using pestle
  • Pound the chillies first, make sure you don't pound in a wet mortar.
  • Using blender
  • Blend your chillies first.
  • Make sure the blender is dry

Note: The whole idea is that your pounded sambal should not be watery.

Air Assam, a Sambal Belachan concoction

Sambal belachan can be used to turn into many other variations. One of the oldest concoction is the Air Assam. Air Assam which uses thick tamarind water to make a creamy, spicy sweet sourish sambal.

In homes or Malay food stalls, one gets to eat Air Assam with Deep Fried Fish especially Ikan Bawah Hitam or Pomfert.

My favorite is sting ray. Washed and cleaned stingray, cut to square bites sizes pieces. Grill or steamed then served with the sweet, sourish, spicy tamarind sauce or Air Assam.

Just let me tell you this. So once you have tasted our sambal, you will find eating without it becomes a bore. There is simply no taste in food without sambal. That is me, a Nyonya. ha ha.

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